NEA Educational Support Personnel Conference 2019
Last month I represented Massachusetts and Norton at the NEA ESP Conference. As we are moving forward together under One Union One Contract and are beginning our contract negotiations this month, I was excited for the opportunity to learn from over 1,200 ESP’s and other NEA members about the challenges they have encountered and the successes we could learn from. I engaged in conversations with people from Washington state to Arizona, from right-to-work states and to states that are well organized. I attended sessions regarding strengthening the collaborative co-teaching relationship between paraprofessionals and teachers, organizing around contracts and the needs of the members, establishing mentoring programs for paraprofessionals and early career members, and how to build stronger teams within the district communities. I left these sessions feeling energized and proud of the amazing work we have already put in here in Massachusetts. We have incredible supports in place through the MTA that truly is bar none. When people heard or noticed that I was from Massachusetts, I received so many questions! Some of the initiatives these unions were starting have already been in place here for many years. At nearly every session I found myself sharing files, gathering email addresses, mapping out ideas, and helping other union members recognize the power we have when we work together. I noticed that we are the innovators. Here in Massachusetts, we are developing policies and actions that are being adopted in other areas of our nation years later. So I began to wonder, where do we go from here? What work can we accomplish NOW to set the stage for others in the years to come? I came back home energized and more ready than ever to fight for the needs of our students and staff. Now I know that what we are working toward, which was already so incredibly important, has now become important for more people than I ever would have known. I am grateful for the opportunity to represent all of us and the hard work we have put in, from No on 2 to the All In Campaign. I look forward to walking beside you at the May 16th Rally in Boston for the CHERISH and PROMISE Acts to fix our funding formula and get our students and staff what they need!
Vice President's Message
MCAS season is here, and for those of us who teach in a testing grade, this is - as much as we promise ourselves we won’t let it be - a stressful time of year. A time when we question everything we’ve taught all year and how we’ve taught it. A time for self doubt and worry. Are my students ready? Have I prepared them well enough without stressing them out? How will I respond to the student who asks me for help with tears in his eyes, both of us knowing that he can’t read what’s in front of him? Will my scores go up or down from last year? How closely do our administrators look at and compare our data?
I have taught in a “testing year” every year of my career. I’ve administered tests at two different grade levels (third and fifth), in two different states (MA and PA), and at two different schools in the same district (LGN and JCS). And, whether it’s the MCAS or the PSSA, 2003 or 2019, not much has changed. Of course, some things have: Common Core, online testing, Part A and B questions, and open responses (which are now called “text-based essays,” but are essentially the same thing).
What’s stayed the same? Several things. First, the tests remain developmentally inappropriate. To be fair, I do not administer the MCAS at the middle school or high school level...so maybe they are appropriate for older children. I understand that high-stakes testing is (or is it?) a necessary evil. However at the third, fourth, and fifth grade levels, I simply cannot see why we subject our children to these tests. Some are developmentally ready, most are not.
I’ve worked in Norton long enough to know that you, my colleagues, understand the importance of teaching the whole child, multiple intelligences, whole-brain teaching, social-emotional learning, etc., so I’m not going to bore you with the research and rhetoric on the value of these tests and their impact on students. Instead, I simply want to share my experience, because I am sure there are many of you who have had a similar one.
So, what else has stayed the same in my sixteen years of teaching in a testing environment? The end result. I have listened to the same feedback from several different principals (one of whom actually teared up while talking about our test results). We have been asked to analyze the data. Stop and highlight. Discuss what’s going well and what’s not. And each year it varies. We know the target, and unfortunately, each year the target has moved...or is moving!! “The kids need to just explain their evidence… focus more on fractions and less on computation….or more on computation and less on fractions...the list goes on.” This ever-changing list of “dos and don’ts” changes so much that it is both maddening and overwhelming.
This is nothing in comparison to the impact the testing environment has on students. We all try to make MCAS as low-stress as possible (with the fall results breathing down on our necks). We have likely all experienced the tears, the dread, and the anxiety testing season causes for children, no matter how hard we try to alleviate this.
So, we know this environment is definitely stressful for us and our students, but those of us who are parents? What can we do? I believe we should opt our young students out. Imagine if a whole classroom was “opted out.” Imagine that. My son is a bright, creative, and funny person. He has an anxiety disorder and does not test well. While he participated in MCAS in third and fourth grades, by fifth grade his school-related anxiety was at an all-time high. He was so stressed out about taking the MCAS, that I asked him if he wanted to opt out. He did, and I subsequently received several calls from his school district questioning my decision. Luckily, I was armed with information and strategies supporting my right to opt him out, thanks to the Massachusetts Teacher Association. For me, it was a no-brainer. Sam wasn’t going to do well on the test and the test wasn’t going to tell me anything I needed to know about my son. In seventh grade, Sam decided he wanted to take the test. I left the choice up to him. He’s matured, and his anxiety has lessened to the point where the test is just a test to him now. However, I’m glad I knew I had the option.
I truly believe opting children out of MCAS is a valid response to a bureaucratic testing culture that is undermining real education, stressing out children, harming local school control, and demeaning teacher judgment and creativity. Visit https://massteacher.org/current-initiatives/high-stakes-testing/opting-out-of-high-stakes-testing to find information on opting out for parents and teachers.
Kim Zajac (SLP) and Tracy McGarry (Learning Specialist) have been busy representing NPS at various conferences and workshops. They have recently led workshops on topics such as Flipgrid, Relationships, Leadership, Sketchnoting, Bravery, Empathy and Book Studies. They have been thrilled to be part of Spring MassCUE/MASCD, Medfield DLD, LSDO, Nipmuc Inspired Learning Day and NELMS. Kim and Tracy are also leading book studies through Norton University. Kim is facilitating the book Be Real and Tracy’s group is working though Ditch That Homework. They are also excited to join their NHS colleague, Jen Skowronek, presenting at the ISTE conference in Philly this June. #NPSETP #NPSPride Lancers Lead!
Tracy McGarry, Michele Fruci, and Norma Fowler were Freezin’ for a Reason on March 23rd when they represented the NMS Team in the Sharon Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. The water was cold but the day was amazing. Together, their team raised almost $1500 for local athletes! #ALLKidsAreOURKids
Created with an image by Acik - "Spring tulip flowers in a row"